Men (and women) come and go at the Koramba Cotton Farm Quarters.
Some are backpackers travelling around the world and working as they go. Some are just restless souls looking for the greener grass over the other side of the hill.
We get to know these people who temporarily enter our lives only to say goodbye just when they begin to become familiar and a part of our lives.
They’ll leave because their work visas are about to expire or they think they’ve found that greener grass or they’re homesick for friends and family.
Sometimes they’re just plain sick of the heat, the flies and the repetitive work that is sometimes a consequence of becoming a farm hand on a large property.
A few get fired and no matter how unjust they feel it is in their own minds, it’s usually a wise move on the side of the farm management.
It was within this constantly changing human environment that a young man came upon us about 4 months ago.
Michael or “Mick” as he became known was different.
He’d just been paroled from prison after serving a twelve month sentence and even with all the varying individuality of the inhabitants of the Quarters Mick stood out.
The Farms Management team (especially Dave the supervisor) and our boss, Martyn had stuck there necks out for Mick.
They knew that unless he had a job he’d not be paroled.
They took him on.
In the first couple of weeks I didn’t think Mick’s chances of making it were very good at all. He was morose, obviously depressed and displayed such weird behaviour that we had to move him into the unrenovated housing block by the kitchen by himself to stop his night-time antics of banging and talking to himself disrupting the camp.
Every day the whole crew must be down at the machinery pad (four kilometres from the camp) at 7:00am for the morning meeting before work. Not attending or arriving late is not an option.
Mick would be still asleep and Dave would need to stop by the camp on the way to the meeting and wake him and drive him in what seemed like a daze down to the pad.
This was mainly due to heavy medications he was prescribed.
The other inhabitants of the camp were very wary of him and kept him at a distance. We would try to engage him in conversation only to have him reply in jumbled sentences that were difficult to comprehend.
As the weeks started rolling by this all changed and a different Mick began to emerge from this troubled cocoon.
He began to sleep all night without his wanderings and ravings and this in turn led to his prompt appearance, showered and shaved, at breakfast.
He devoured his food in large quantities always appreciative of it usually making some complimentary comment.
He stopped the confused, jumbled chit chat and began to have meaningful conversations with others. This began to cause others to warm to him and begin to include him in the daily life of the farm.
Mick had never driven a Grader before arriving at Koramba but a Grader Operator was the position assigned to him.
It only took him a few days to get familiar with this rather complex machine and in the ensuing weeks he made that Grader his own. He got to know everything about it and within a few weeks he began to operate it with a competent professionalism that would be expected of someone who’d worked the machine for many years.
Mick’s whole demeanour changed.
It soon became a rare thing to see him not smiling. He put on weight (maybe a little too much) he dressed clean and tidily and regularly washed and folded his clothes. His room was immaculate.
He became a happy and contented man.
In our many conversations he’d tell me how much he loved his life here at Koramba and his beloved Grader.
Kerrie told Mick one day that she found it hard to recognise him as the same man that arrived at the farm a few months earlier, that the change in him was amazing.
There was also a strong tendency for this man to reach out to others with a helping hand. He would often be found working on the resident’s cars or extending a welcome to new people.
A week ago Mick decided to go home for a rare weekend visit with his parents.
He laughed and joked with the family, and told them he was the happiest he’d been for fifteen years. He helped his mum clean the house and cooked meals for the family.
It seemed the family could now rest easy knowing that Michael had finally found a place of peace, contentment and happiness in life.
On the Sunday Michael went to the toilet at his Mum and Dad’s place where he suffered a heart attack which caused his death.
He was 33 years old.
We are so thankful that he took the time to visit his parents and to let them see the massive change that had taken place in his life.
We still expect him to make his entrance into the mess hall at 6:00am every morning.
We miss Mick around the Koramba Camp.